Allying with the queer community

If you’ve seen the front of Paresky recently, you already know that this week and next are a celebration of Queer Pride Days here at Williams College. I’ll be among the first to say that I’m incredibly excited about these events. Queer Bash, whose “history” theme hopefully incited an examination of how important figures in queer history have shaped our society today, was a big success, and we have many more great events and discussions scheduled to take place during the next two weeks.

But I did not write this op-ed solely to inform the campus that we have indeed begun to celebrate Queer Pride Days. Official publicity ends here after my telling you that information about Queer Pride Days is available on the MCC Web site. I personally believe that while the Queer Student Union (QSU) serves many functions in providing a safe social space as well as support and activism-related services for anybody regardless of gender identification or sexuality, a necessary component of Queer Pride Days must come not from the QSU but from the active participation of the rest of the Williams community. By “participation,” well, I’ll explain.

Looking back on it, there were a number of reasons why I ended up as the freshman representative for the QSU, none of which involved my identifying as queer. I already considered and continue to consider myself as an ally – somebody who tries to better understand queer issues and perspectives while supporting both politically and socially queer-identified people and their rights. I believed that the QSU’s activist mission would very much be helped if only more people saw things from an allied perspective. Surely there would be no problem – or at least much less of a problem – if everybody were educated on and aware of queer issues and were proponents of queer rights?

But that is not the whole story. Looking back on how I have understood queer rights, it seems to me very clear that the political struggle to reconcile queer rights with mainstream politics (as well as the parallel ethical, societal and theological struggles to likewise reconcile queer rights with the respective mainstream cultures) had shaped and skewed my perception of queer-identified people themselves. I remember being told as a young teenager that being gay was “okay.” This reassurance, while effective in warding off early prejudice, had the unfortunate side effect of conjuring an image in my mind of gay people as distinct from straight people, and that both were “okay” in their respective ways. To put it another way, I instinctively identified a strong separation between gay people and myself, though this separation did not justify discrimination in either direction. This is a fine enough foundation to pragmatically support queer rights, but it also made me automatically regard my relation to queer-identified people as distinct from my relation to straight-identified people.

For me, participation during Queer Pride Days at Williams is about breaking down this distinction. It is about reversing the unfortunate and inadvertent harm done by years of well-intentioned discussion of how it’s okay and not bad to be queer. Though we have not yet fully succeeded in winning queer rights, I believe we have finished justifying why queer people have rights in the first place and why we should respect them. This is no longer a question.

Instead of solely attempting to justify the equality of two perceived separate identities, straight and queer, let us instead not lose focus on forming a shared identity, one of human dignity and value, to which we attribute ourselves as readily as others of all gender identifications and sexualities, as well as ethnicities, nationalities and all other distinctions that unfortunately have a hand in ever justifying oppression. This is not possible unless we all reflect on our own identities and what they share in common with those of perceived others. Students of Williams, please do not miss this opportunity to explore who you are as well as who your classmates are so that we may better effect a stronger, more unified community fully knowledgeable of all the hopes, dreams, fears and values we have in common.

David Gold ’12 is from Teaneck, N.J. He lives in Mills.